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Supplements May Alleviate Depression

By Elaine Pomfrey

Depression currently afflicts about 121 million people worldwide according to the World Health Organization (WHO). That number continues to grow and by 2020, depression will be the second largest health problem in the world. The sales of antidepressant medication hit $9.6 billion in 2008. However, only 35-45% of those who take antidepressants find complete relief from their depressive symptoms. Nutritional supplements, like St. John's Wort, may be the answer for those who want to avoid antidepressants and their side effects. Supplements' ease of use may appeal to depressed patients who cannot make the significant lifestyle changes that some medical professionals recommend in recent books. Supplements range from herbs to Omega-3's fats to vitamins.

St John's WortSt. John's Wort (Hypericum perforatum L.), a flowering plant, is the nutritional supplement most commonly alternative for depression in the US and it is frequently prescribed by physicians in Europe. Research indicates its effectiveness in treating mild depression and subjects experienced fewer side effects than with antidepressants. Keep in mind that the FDA issued a warning about possible adverse reactions when taking St John's Wort with certain medications.

S-adenosyl-L-methionine (SAM-e) is a molecule that occurs naturally in living cells. The amount of SAM-e in the body decreases with age. Scientists theorize that replacing it with a supplement can help alleviate depression. Research indicates that SAM-e is more effective than placebo and as effective as some antidepressants for severe depression.

Omega-3 fatty acid supplements provide another option for depressed patients. Research indicates that these healthy fats reduce depression, as well as help prevent cardiovascular disease, rheumatoid arthritis and asthma. The human body does not manufacture omega-3 fats so they must be consumed. Our ancestors regularly consumed foods high in Omega-3 fats, like wild fish and game, organ meat, and whale. These days the best sources of Omega-3 fats are flax seeds, walnuts and salmon. Supplementation is recommended to consume enough Omega-3 fats to affect depression. Because of their wide ranging effects on the body, Omega-3 fatty acids were the most popular general supplement, besides vitamins and minerals, according to a 2007 survey.

Vitamin D is recommended to treat Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD), a type of depression that develops when the light from the sun decreases during certain seasons. Research has found that major depression is associated with low vitamin D levels. If exposure to the sun is limited, supplementing with Vitamin D is recommended.

HerbsAyurveda, a 5000 year-old system of health care, recommends herbal supplements, such as Blissful Joy to fight depression. Blissful Joy calms the mind, but it also soothes the heart and emotions. Two of the main ingredients are arjuna, known for its beneficial effects on the physical heart and emotions, and ashwagandha, (winter cherry) which helps reduce stress and increase energy.

Ayurveda also recommends meditation (or transcendental supplementation) to reduce the symptoms of depression. How does meditation affect depression? The most popular form of meditation practiced by over 6 million people, the Transcendental Meditation or TM technique, provides deep rest to the mind and body decreasing stress and reducing fatigue. After just 20 minutes of meditation, people report feeling greater energy and clarity of mind. Norman Rosenthal, M.D., the psychiatrist who first described Seasonal Affective Disorder, theorized at a recent conference in New York that meditating may also help alleviate depression by acting as a circuit breaker to stop the vicious cycle of endless negative thoughts characteristic of depression. Three different research studies indicated that the Transcendental Meditation technique reduced depression in cancer patients, college students and coronary heart disease patients.

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